How to Secure Cloud Native Resources with Identity Management

Nimrod Iny
Jun 22, 2022

Among the many beneficial changes stemming from the cloud delivery model is the ability for development teams to build and run scalable applications using only cloud infrastructure. This so-called cloud native computing includes containers, single-purpose serverless functions, and microservices for resilient and highly flexible apps. 

One recent survey found that 97% of IT decision-makers and 96% of developers planned to expand the use of cloud native applications over the coming 12 months. The shift from on-premise to cloud-native development is in full force, and it’s not surprising given what’s possible with cloud computing. 

The many benefits of cloud-native justify the hype. However, it’s important not to overlook security concerns in this type of application deployment. Cloud-native breaches can occur when errors creep into how organizations configure and use cloud infrastructure. Threat actors can exploit such errors and eventually exfiltrate sensitive data from IaaS environments. 

Identity management provides one possible way to help secure cloud native resources. Identity management combines process, policy, and technology to define the scope of permissions granted to resources in an effort to keep systems and data secure. In this blog post, you’ll get some insight into how identity management helps to improve security for cloud native applications. 

Is cloud native computing secure?

Product owners, developers, and DevOps engineers all need to recognize from the outset that every component and layer of a cloud native application’s architecture needs securing. Today’s threat actors are sophisticated and technical enough to exploit even the smallest error or security loophole in a system. 

The environmental complexity and dynamism of cloud native apps pose new security challenges compared to on-premise development, where applications often run on virtual machines in the confines of an enterprise data center. Across a cloud native development pipeline, there are several categories of security risk, including:

  • Insecure cloud or container configuration issues, such as containers running as root or open cloud buckets
  • Injection flaws in cloud services, such as not validating inputs 
  • Weak authentication and authorization, for example, overly permissive cloud roles
  • Software supply chain flaws, such as developers using untrusted container images or vulnerable open source libraries/frameworks
  • A lack of runtime monitoring and logging for container processes, resource consumption, or orchestration

The anytime, anywhere access inherent to cloud computing makes it hard to enforce access rules based on IP addresses. A multitude of different containers running inhibits end-to-end visibility and monitoring. Cloud native computing isn’t inherently lacking in security, but the relative novelty of these ecosystems along with increased infrastructural complexity leads to uncertainty and multiple security challenges. 

Identity Management can secure cloud native resources 

The power of identity and access management as an important cybersecurity technology is reflected by a projected annual growth rate of 14.5 % from 2021-2028. As previously alluded to, identity management has excellent potential to improve cloud native security. The particular category of security risks addressed by identity management solutions is weak authentication and authorization. 

A slew of identity and access management (IAM) solutions is available from all major cloud providers within their own cloud services. These IAM solutions provide sophisticated controls for setting the scope of roles and permissions within your cloud infrastructure. 

Since users can access cloud resources over the internet, it’s imperative to be certain about their identity through effective authentication. In the ecosystem that comprises cloud native apps, identity management must extend beyond users to include the very resources that the operation of these apps depends on. 

In the IAM services provided by cloud vendors, you can set roles for computing instances, containers, and functions, defining what those resources can or can’t do. To prevent many kinds of application attacks, it’s important to exercise as much control and diligence when defining these roles as you (hopefully) would for regular users. 

Cloud native identity management aims to restrict the scope of permissions in each process and resource to the bare minimum needed for it to run. Effective identity management builds in the principle of least privileges to the design of your cloud native apps and reduces the attack surface for malicious actors. 

Three tips for implementing effective identity management 

So, how exactly can you start implementing effective identity management in cloud native applications? Here are three actionable tips to get started.  

  1. Any services accessing resources should be authenticated, authorized, and audited

Exercise granularity over authentication and authorization to the level of instances, microservices, containers, and even serverless frameworks if you want to secure the decoupled architecture of cloud native apps. You need to authenticate every connection to or from different services, and authorization upon connection should use the least privilege principle. Ensure that you don’t neglect the extensive reporting capabilities provided by cloud IAM services to monitor and audit identities and access levels.  

  1. Security policies should be centralized

A centralized approach to security policies is critical in ensuring that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet and minimizing confusion. Upon initially moving towards cloud native development, many organizations struggled because they tried to apply policies and controls for physical and virtual servers to these complex ecosystems. This initial challenge was mitigated with a patchwork of different security policies applied to on-premise, cloud infrastructure, and even different cloud environments. 

Centralization aims to unify security policies in the context of a multi-cloud strategy. Fragmented policies for different cloud services won’t provide effective identity management. With a single policy to reference, operations and development teams can implement effective IAM controls regardless of whether they’re building an app on AWS or Google Cloud. 

  1. Elevated privileges should only be for a limited time

Limiting privileges through IAM policies is a good security practice, but there will always be exceptions when human and non-human users need elevated privileges for specific application transactions and events. Security risks can occur when cloud admins or other security operations personnel forget to set expiration periods or disable temporary privilege elevations. Therefore, a hacker compromising such an account has privileged access, which makes it far easier to abuse that access and achieve malicious goals. 

A just-in-time approach to managing privileged access elevation should make sure that there is justification for the access request and that privileged access is only given for a specific period of time (the least amount of time needed to perform the particular task/transaction). 

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How Polar Security can help you with securing cloud native resources 

In summary, despite innumerable advantages, cloud native development remains a nascent approach that carries different security challenges from on-premise application development. Getting a handle on these challenges calls for more secure coding, but also more effective authentication and authorization between all the different microservices, APIs, connectors, users, and containers. This is achievable through and starts with identity management. 

Ultimately, what you want to protect most against from a security perspective is a breach of sensitive data through cloud native applications. Whether these apps store or link to protected healthcare information, personally identifiable information, or intellectual property, any outside access to this data carries significant legal, reputational, and compliance costs. The problem is that with so many moving parts, it’s easy to lose track of the data security posture of your data stores in your cloud native applications. 

Polar Security’s data security posture management platform scans, tracks, follows, identifies, and classifies the data within your organization in an automated way. Even as resources get constantly de-provisioned in a cloud native ecosystem by testing teams, production developers, and R&D, Polar Security’s solution prevents shadow assets from going unnoticed. Book a demo today to strengthen data security and prevent breaches in your cloud native services.

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